In 2022, 34% of the Botswana population was not connected to the Internet and 60% could not afford a data plan. Rural populations are the most affected. “Brastorne is inspired by those who, due to be being far from 3G/4G network coverage or unable to own a smartphone, find themselves excluded from a large number of opportunities and from access to information and socialization,” said Co-Founder Naledi Magowe. With experience in development and the banking sector, particularly in the field of mobile solutions, Naledi and her partner, Martin Stimela, quickly saw the value of bringing these new services to those who are unable to access them.
With Brastorne’s mAgri service, 36,000 farmer users will increase their agricultural yield by 7% per year.
Reducing the Digital Divide
To bring this potential to life, the startup uses the protocol, SMS and the IVR (interactive voice response) server. In Africa, the USSD protocol is mainly used for banking services and buying telephone credit. With Brastorne, Orange network users can chat and access information—such as Wikipedia pages, emails and more—as the services are designed to work with the basic interface of older generation cell phones that do not have the display capabilities of a smartphone. After dialing a short number, the subscriber can navigate through the services via a menu. Thanks to IVR, audiences with reading difficulties can access these solutions via voice.
A Full Range of Digital Uses
Brastorne has developed a WhatsApp-style messaging feature that uses USSD, as well as an SMS service aimed at professionals for viewing job and training opportunities, events, etc. However, its biggest success is the mAgri service. “Through this platform, small-holder farmers can access advice, weather alerts, a stock management feature and a marketplace, and rely on the service’s social network to share information with each other. It is estimated that, with Brastorne, 36,000 farmer users will increase their agricultural yield by 7% per year.”
Powered by Women Start
In addition to offering a service with a strong societal impact, Brastorne has found its business model niche. The company was launched 9 years ago and now has 40 employees. Thanks to its relationship with Orange, it has expanded outside of Botswana to conquer new markets, growing from $300K in revenue in 2017 to well over $2M in 2022. “In 2018, we were selected for Orange Fab’s Women Start program. It was more than just a startup accelerator, but instead a pivotal partner for our business development. Distributed on the Orange network, we launched in Guinea and Cameroon. And we are seeking to expand even further. As smartphones and data become more accessible in Africa, we will aim to reach both connected and unconnected users, to make Brastorne a leading mobile service.”
Unstructured Supplementary Service Data: This protocol enables a service to be launched by sending a message over the GSM network. This system, commonly used in Africa for mobile payments, is giving rise to new services.